The nose-curling odor here told me that somewhere, something was burning. Sometimes, it was just a faint, if harsh, note carried on the hot breeze, but when the wind shifted it became an acrid, all-encompassing stench—not the comforting smell of a cooking fire, but something far more malign.I looked to the sky, searching for a plume of smoke, but there was only the same opaque glare, blinding and ashen. Something tore through it and ruined it, just as something tore through this home and ruined it, just as something tore through this town and left it a dusty, wasted ruin. I’m standing on the threshold of a ghost of a home. In the ruins sits a bulbous little silver teakettle—metal, softly rounded, charred but otherwise perfect, save for two punctures.Wiping my eyes, I muttered a quick curse for this place and moved on to the next ruined shell of a home, and the next, and the next.The devastated wattle-and-daub tukuls and wrecked animal pens stretched on as far as I could see.A 2005 peace deal between US-supported rebels in the south of Sudan and the government in the north was supposed to put a stop to such slaughter, but it never quite did.And in some quarters, worse was predicted for the future.
It’s a conflict of shifting alliances involving a plethora of armed actors and militias led by a corrupt cast of characters fighting wars within wars.Kiir and Machar do indeed have a long history as both allies and enemies and as president and vice president of their new nation. It did, however, find that “Dinka soldiers, members of Presidential Guard, and other security forces conducted house-to-house searches, killing Nuer soldiers and civilians in and near their homes” and that it was carried out “in furtherance of a State policy.” The civil war that ensued “ended” with an August 2015 peace agreement that saw Machar rejoin the government.But the violence never actually stopped and after a fresh round of killings in the capital in July, he fled the country and has since issued a new call for rebellion.In 2015, I walked among the mass graves of Bor where, a year earlier, a bulldozer had dug huge trenches for hundreds of bodies, some so badly decomposed or mutilated that it was impossible to identify whether they had been men, women, or children.This spring, I find myself in Leer, another battered enclave, as aid groups struggled to reestablish their presence, as armed men still stalked the night, as human skulls gleamed beneath the blazing midday sun.